Sleep The cure all, to EVERYTHING?! But what happens when sleep eludes you?
How sleep affects your Mental Health
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say something headliney “That sleep cures EVERYTHING!” Yeah, OK, for those wishing to get pedantic, maybe not the cancers and other illnesses of that nature. But it sure goes some way to making you feel a darn sight better. From a personal point of view I know that a few hours sleep can make you feel on top of the world. That 20 minute cat nap does work wonders on your little grey brain cells. Have you ever had a “Disco Nap” - Oh maybe I shouldn’t be talking about that right now? Because it makes me yearn for a damn good night out. Anyway, Sleep is like ambrosia, the nectar of the gods and having a decent 8 hours, it’s seen as the gold star of “winning at life” But if like me your sleep pattern has been one of concern then read on. If your mental health is not at it’s best, I can offer up a few ideas that may go some way into getting a better night's sleep and in turn a grip on your mental health. I know how it feels to not get the sleep you need and to feel as if life is spiralling away from you. I’m here to offer some things to think about, some tried and tested ways and a gentle arm around the shoulders when all above fails.
Why sleep matters
So why is sleep important? Well the body needs a rest, plain and simple as that. During those sleeping hours your body has the chance to replenish and renew itself. It’s not just physical either, this is for mental stability too. Sleeping lets you dream and dreaming helps you order and understand the day's events. Boy do we love those weird and whacky dreams that come by every now and then. We all know how we feel when we’ve had a sleepless night, you feel drained exhausted and really out of sorts. But what happens when you keep getting sleepless nights? What then?
When sleep doesn’t come
Again we can talk from experience here. Insomnia is a friend of mine and I can quite possibly talk at length about it. Maybe I’m an expert? I’ve tried to google it, look up the reasons. I’ve even done “all the things” recommended in order to get that sleep back. And still at times, sleep has eluded me.
I’m a mum and have been for over 10 years but I remember vividly the pre child years. In fact, I can remember way back to when I was a youth and when I used to not get sleep even then. So as a handy guide, I’m gonna split up my sleepless night escapades just for you and shine a light on what I think was going on. Hopefully giving you some tips and tricks that might help make sleep, a little easier to come by. Again all these tips and tricks have sometimes worked and sometimes not. And as with all my advice I repeat One size does not fit all. So take or leave what i say and try your own way. But if you’re nosey then continue the read.
The Youth Years
When I’ve asked my mum about this, she always tells me that as a baby I hardly slept. I was a good natured child but I didn’t sleep all that much. At this point you may be thinking (as have I ) maybe you just don’t require that much sleep? And maybe that’s the answer? As I grew up, and we moved house yet again, I am reminded of my primary school years. I hated school and spent many a Sunday pacing the floors (this would go on up to secondary school and beyond) But the primary years around the ages of 8 - 11, I vividly remember that my mum worked late evenings (sometimes till about 2am) And I can remember going to bed and then getting up and watching the TV from the top of the stairs without my father knowing. Until I watched a horror movie that one time and had to wake him up in order for him to put me back to bed because I was scared. So you see I was sneaky about going to bed. I suspect the main reason for not sleeping was that all my family were not under the same roof and so in my opinion something was amiss. I felt anxious and therefore could not sleep . Mix that with years or upset from attending schools that I vehemently did not want to attend . You may well see a pattern emerging. And one that you may relate too? Anxiety plays a massive part in your ability to sleep. Feeling safe and secure is important to sleep patterns. Here are a few tips I found that helped a lot with me falling asleep as a child and onwards into my adulthood. I have also tried these with my own child and can say that I found some success on occasions.
- Feeling safe in your bed - Yep I’ve done the whole check for monsters and making sure I’ve locked the front door a million times but if a routine of doing that means a restful night then so beit.
- Being tucked in and warm - yep I need the bedroom temperature just right. Sometimes I can have the window open, sometimes not, it depends (see first answer for that reason) But I have purchased a weighted blanket and that has been a remedy some of the time. It certainly helped when I went and stayed at other peoples houses.
- Bedtime stories, reading and mantras (counting sheep anyone?) - I’ve tried them all and can certainly say when i adhere to these rituals, all is well (these are a definite go to when sleep eludes me.)
The TEEN Years
My early teen years, I can honestly say you couldn’t get me out of bed. I was like a sleepy dormouse and spent an average of 14 hours sleeping a night. Some weekends I rarely got out of my bed. My late teens I was just on a different schedule to most of the world, awake till around 2 or 3am but then would sleep until midday and beyond. So you see just accommodating my new sleep patterns meant happiness all round.
The Party Years - AKA Pre children
Yes these were wild and I have a million tales of drink and drug fueled nights/weekends that went on for days and days. Back in the day, partying for a whole weekend with the odd “disco Nap” was not uncommon and I can say the phrase “sleep when you’re dead” may well have been tattooed on my forehead. The fact that I regularly abused sleep and still turned up on a Monday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed is a minor miracle. But somehow I managed. Maybe it was training for having kids? Who knows, but I can definitely say that the tips I gained from these years, pretty much sum up how you look after a baby and get them off to sleep. So like any well intended checklist you can tick the following off and see if they work for you?
- Fed and watered?
- Bathed, washed and brushed hair - clean and toileted?
- Warm, lowlights and comfortable?
- A familiar blanket or smell. (there’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting into freshly laundered bed linen. Is that just me?)
- Some calming music?
If you’ve tried these with a baby and they have worked, then have you tried them for yourself? These tried and tested approaches above, are what made a Sunday for me, back in the day. So don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
OMG why won’t you sleep? - AKA having children.
So if you have ventured into breeding and at times been at the end of your tether when it comes to your child's sleep pattern. You are not alone. I too have been there and for no rhyme or reason charted the sleeping pattern of my offspring only to find there is no pattern. But into adulthood I have found that certain things can make for sleepless nights. So much like the checklist above, the next few suggestions are also meant as a “are you aware?” more than a - this will definitely work.
- What have you been drinking? (too much water, alcohol, caffeine they all have an affect)
- What have you been eating? (yes allergies, histamine reactions, too much food)
- What time of the month is it? (yep you guessed it, Hormones play a massive part in sleep disruption , not just kids (growing spurt anyone?) but men too - full moons the works.)
- What have you been taking on board - Yep STRESS it’s a major factor
These above points really are for you to research yourself. Trying to avoid certain foods, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol may have the desired effects of a good night sleep that you are after. And if not then a look into your blood work and see what you are deficient in may also be a starting point. I found adding magnesium into my vitamin regime made a big difference for me. The fact that stress is in capitals is not by mistake. Stress really is a major factor for sleep. I can definitely say that after this recent pandemic which has played havoc with my sleep patterns since March 2020. What I have taken from this, is when I finally gave in and accepted my fate, I started to worry less and sleep more. I also found that adopting a little meditation into my life made the sleep I did have, very restful. Even a 5 minute meditation had some effect . So again this is a don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and a more than one time approach is needed for meditation. I’m afraid a one time wonder will not work with this technique.
Sleep Deprivation - Will it kill me?
Ok so not sleeping can have some serious side effects. As I’ve said in my youth I regularly would not get the recommended amount. And yet I am still here writing this. Some of my best ideas have come from sleepless nights. I must admit the early mum years were crucifying at times but again still here. Although at times the madness really did set in, but not for long. I can certainly say that when you haven’t had a great night's sleep, operating machinery (i.e driving) is not a good idea. If you aren’t getting sleep on a regular basis it may be time to ask your doctor for some help. Especially if you’ve tried ALL the above - the sleep hygiene of no screens before bed and everything else in between. Sometimes a prescription for a weeks worth of sleeping tablets can help you get back into the groove of sleep (this is not recommended if you are feeling very depressed) In my experience, I have always found that if I am not too hard on myself, then I have found that my sleep pattern starts to catch up with itself and eventually, I sleep all night. What I did notice was when I really couldn’t sleep and I was wide awake with a million ideas at 2am the best thing I could do was write down all my ideas. Then get up and have a cup of chamomile tea, read a book and I was soon back in the land of nod, even if it was only for a few hours more, it really was better than nothing.
Above all worrying about it didn’t really help at all and although I may sound churlish suggesting not to worry when you are in full anxiety mode #igetit. Really do give yourself a break, tell yourself you are doing the best you can, grab another chamomile tea, listen to your best chill out tunes and take a mental health day off. After all if we were sick we would take the day off. Wouldn’t we?
I really hope some of these have helped a little. Please leave a comment if they have. Especially if it's something you haven’t yet thought about.
Above all LOVE YOU! - You are important, you are loved.